The Bible tells, in sixty-six books, the story of God’s relationship to humanity. The story begins before the creation of the earth and ends in eternal blessedness for those people whom he has redeemed. There are three major themes that continue throughout the story. These are God’s creation of all that exists, the disobedience of the first humans and the consequences of that for all of physical reality, and God’s work to make right (redeem) according to his purposes all that has gone wrong. Redemption is a long and complex project and, I believe, cannot be finished in the framework of our present reality.
“For myself I wanted to know nature after another fashion in its causes, in its essence, in its end.” (Cited in review of We Have Been Friends Together & Adventures in Grace by Raїssa Maritain, First Things, May 2016, p. 63)
What we call nature is the creation of God but only part of his creative activity. If we are to broaden the six days of creation to six stages, as it takes the complete Bible to tell us, we might say these are: (1) Conception of existence, (2) Physical creation, (3) Creation of minds, (4) Creation of human spirits, (5) Regeneration of our spirits (rebirth) and, (6) Re-creation of human bodies (resurrection). And then God presumably rests from creation for eternity, although there may be room in eternity for types of creation we have not been told about.
Causes of Creation
Creation is a product of both the mind and the power of an infinite being. It is so complex in its six manifestations that it requires not only an infinite deity to accomplish it but one that has three persons. The Father is the source of all creation. The Son is the active agent who serves the purposes of the Father and who both shapes creation and takes into own being a human person. The Holy Spirit accomplishes the spiritual parts of creation in accordance with the purposes of the Father and the Son.
Essence of Creation
The essence of creation is the bringing into existence of something that did not exist before. When we think about physical creation these can be objects as large as the universe or as small as the Higgs boson. We can note that none of these physical entities has either mind or spirit. This fact escapes the minds of the materialists who think their thoughts and everything else can be explained by what is only one part of creation.
Before there was any physical creation there was a planning session in heaven. This brought into being a literally cosmic plan for something that had never existed before. After physical creation came the creation of minds. This, of course, required the coming into existence of something else that was new—life.
There are various opinions about the role of the twenty-four elders described in the book of Revelation. They appear to be rather robotic but one of them does impart wisdom to John during one of his experiences in heaven. My own opinion is that they were created to advise the Trinity on what it is like to be finite. Before the Incarnation none of the Godhead had any experience with the limits of finite being. This may be why there appear to be some “kinks’ in the timeline of creation.
The wisdom of the elders is shown by their continual praise of the Father and Son. This is what our kind of finite beings would be doing if we were wise enough.
Back to our own reality, when our ancestors reached a certain level of physical and mental development they were ready to be given a living soul. This is something that had not existed before. It did not come from physical creation although its existence was part of God’s planning of creation. Since our souls are not part of physical creation they cannot be detected by physical means. This inability to be detected means that belief in their existence requires what is called faith. In other words, an action of our minds not our bodies.
End of Creation
The end of creation is not when the space-time continuum tears and time and space no longer exist. The ultimate end, meaning its defining purpose, is in the vast number of glorified humans who are to live with and praise their Creator forever. The end of creation would have been at the conclusion of a far straighter train of events if God had not introduced contingency and probability into his creative efforts. As it is, all the stages of creation involve vast complexities that continue to challenge the best of our human understanding.
The book of Revelation, beginning from two points in the present world (the history we live in), tells us what happens to some part of humanity on their way to the new and final creation we find at the end of the book. This segment of people is those whose names are written in the book of life (Revelation 20:12). The destiny of the rest is to be thrown into a lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
There are many people who object for many different reasons to the idea of everyone having to face a pass/fail situation to remain in existence. Thus we should look at how Revelation gets us to this point. The books starts with a man named John, most likely the apostle, on the island of Patmos in the Mediterranean Sea around AD 95. It is a Sunday and he enters into a condition of spiritual perception described as being in the Spirit. This state allows him to see spiritual realities with the same clarity and intensity as he normally saw physical realities. Thus begins a series of visions that continue to the end of the book.
The first vision concerns the seven churches in Asia Minor to which the book is addressed. In it we find that even in Christian churches there are people who may pass and also who may fail. If this surprises us we should remember Jesus told his disciples in the parable of the weeds (Matthew 13) that there were going to be people in the Christian churches until he returned who were sons of the evil one and who would then be thrown into the fire.
The next series of visions, collectively described as the opening of seven seals, are an outline of human history. The test here is how people react to the events of history. Those who have faith in Christ are meant to persevere in their faith while others are seeing only disasters and the wrath of God or, in our time, both the absence of God and any meaning to what happens. The “seal” visions go counter to the optimism in Western culture that has been a staple of secular, and much nominally Christian, thinking since the Enlightenment.
The “trumpet” visions provide us pictures of psychological disasters. The events that occur create fear, anxiety and other types of psychological pain. The last three of the seven trumpets produce such pain they are called three woes. Surprisingly enough the third woe is the return of Christ which means it is time for everyone to find out who has passed and who will be destroyed. Certainly, the highest of possible anxieties will be in those who do not have a true assurance of their faith in Jesus Christ.
This second part of Revelation starts at Revelation 11:19 or Revelation 12:1 depending on how those verses are understood. In any case, it is here that the visions enter the realm of the spiritual. This means that what occurs affects the world in a different way than the events of the first half of the book.
The first vision in this section provides us a vision of a beautiful woman descending from heaven. The immediate symbolism is that of the creation of the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. The larger meaning is that of God’s good purposes for humanity. We see this in the birth of a male child who is obviously Jesus Christ. The steps between his birth on earth and his enthronement in heaven are omitted. The good promised to those who are faithful to Christ is expanded on throughout the remainder of the book.
Next there comes the bad news for humanity. John sees a war in heaven in which the good angels defeat Satan and his minions and cast them down to earth. We are told in 2 Peter 5:8 that the devil seeks out individuals to destroy but he also has larger projects for human destruction as we are told in various symbols.
The initial symbol is described as a beast coming out of the sea. Again there appear to be two aspects to what is represented by the beast. The concrete aspect of it could be as a symbol of the Roman Empire. However, just as the woman has ramifications all through history so does this first beast. The larger symbolism is that of nations that wage war against the people of God. The impetus that Satan supplies to these nations we may call “nationalism.”
The second beast is pictured as coming out of the earth. It supports the power of the first beast and insures that the beast out of the sea is continued to be worshipped, even though at some point it had been severely injured. We might see this beast as “secularism” because in it we find a worship of the natural world and the promotion of technology as an ultimate good. This beast may also be symbolized by the false prophet who is introduced in chapter 16.
The role of the beasts and the false prophet is to deceive people about the reality of God’s good purpose for humanity. This is done by the creation of false ideologies that people can serve and in doing so be kept from serving God, which is where their true interest lies. They also allow Satan to achieve the destruction of human life that is his main goal. There are many “isms” that Satan has used and is using, far more than can be listed. A new one is pathological altruism which is defined as doing good to feel good regardless if anyone is helped by it. It seems also that almost anything that is joined to Christianity, such as social activism, church unity or older causes such as temperance are probably deceptions created by Satan.
The name Babylon is used four different times in Revelation as the description of a decadent entity. Far be it from me to be able to provide any certainties as to exactly what these entities are. One of the difficulties in interpreting Revelation is that we do not know where we are in all the things that are presented to us in a variety of ways.
There are far more things going on in Revelation than I have even mentioned. However, returning to my original purpose, it is time to take a look at how we get from our present world to the final creation and to do that we need first to see what this world is like.
Our present world is part of a universe that, as best we know, began with an immense amount of energy coming into existence. This energy was contained in a rapidly and constantly expanding four-dimensional entity called the space-time continuum. This energy is the source of all matter. We know, thanks to special relativity, how energy and matter are related. Matter and energy, and the forces that govern them, constitute the material universe.
Physics is always subject to revision but it seems now that gravity, which is produced by deformation of the space-time continuum, does not fit into the Standard Model of physical forces that includes the strong force, the weak force and electromagnetism. This appears to make it reasonable that gravity can be thought of as a part of the immaterial part of the universe constituted by space and time.
It was not too long ago that scientists did not know the universe was expanding, that time was variable and that gravity was a deformation of space. This did not prevent materialists from claiming that everything was matter and energy and nothing immaterial existed. They were obviously wrong about the universe but this did not prevent them from proclaiming the nonexistence of any spiritual realm. However, now it is reasonable to question any of their supposedly certain knowledge about the nonexistence of immaterial things.
Like the universe we humans have our material and immaterial components. Our immaterial part is often called our soul. Like space and time it is not governed by the laws of energy and matter. In its normal condition it, like the universe, is not eternal. However, unlike the universe, it has the possibility of becoming eternal through what is called a second birth. This new birth is a work of the Holy Spirit. In other words, here is a case of the spiritual realm entering the physical realm. And here we can see that immaterial things can influence our physical existence just as the space-time continuum shapes the material events of the universe.
The work of the Holy Spirit in those who will become eternal is the final creation coming into the present creation. It is what Jesus called the kingdom of God. However, this is only the beginning of the road to eternity. The next step which takes place in the present world is what could be called “solidification.” This is the process often called “sanctification” where people destined for eternity began to acquire the “being” required to live longer than nations, longer than the earth, longer than the universe. The step after this is physical death. There is no escaping it. Jesus had to go through it to lead others to everlasting life.
After physical death there is a state of spiritual existence. This seems to take several forms. It is sometimes thought of as a marginal existence in a place called “Hades” (the grave) or it can be, as in Revelation, participation in the eternal praise of God the Father and God the Son. The final stage of our existence is where people either receive a resurrection body in which they will live forever or they are sent to a second death where they cease to exist.
At this point we should ask ourselves why everybody does not urgently seek to become an inhabitant of the final creation. There are several reasons why this is so. Major causes are egotism, atheism, hedonism, intellectualism, and so forth, here are those isms again and they are all deceptions of Satan who seeks the destruction of individuals however he can.
There are reasons other than Satan’s deceits for people making the wrong choice. There are people who dislike the God of the Old Testament and/or the Jesus of the New Testament. We should pause here briefly and consider the mental state of people who think they are qualified to judge the being and purposes of God. Next, we can go on to those who love the things of the world too much. We are told in 1 John 2:16 that the cravings of sinful people, the ambitions for more, and the pride of accomplishments and possessions are not from God but from the world and as such cannot last. They and these things will have no place in the final creation.
Some traditional Christians think people make the wrong choice because of their rebellion against God. This may be flattery because what people seem to object to is the sacrifice of self that is required and the acknowledgment of fundamental defects in themselves. Some of those who go on to the second death are those who do not see any need to be any better than they are.
We do not know why Revelation shows so many people unable to acquire the eternal life that is to be found in Christ. Jesus, though, told his disciples in Matthew 7:13–14 that Christians needed to enter the final creation through a narrow gate and that there would be only a few who found the road to eternal life. He also said there was a wide gate that leads to annihilation. This is the road to the second death. The book of Revelation is a long and dramatic exposition of these words of Jesus. We may not comprehend many of the details but the message is clear. Our choice of the direction of our lives must be always, and in perseverance through all things, along the narrow road.
The final creation we should seek is a new heaven and a new earth. John saw a great and wondrous woman come down to the present world to symbolize God’s purposes for it. In a later vision, chapter 21, John sees a bride descending on the new earth. She is also spectacular. The woman symbolizes the permanent union of Christ with those who inhabit the holy city described as the New Jerusalem.
The symbolism surrounding the bride and the rest of the final creation is complex. It may be best understood as a negation of the present world. In it there will be no death, mourning, pain or any of all the other ailments of the present world. There will be no evil people. They are specifically excluded. The description of the new heaven and earth seems to preclude it being a remaking or repurposing of the present world. This is no return to Eden but an entirely new existence in a completely new reality. In it all is good and everything in it will last forever. It will allow the people there to be what God saw them to be when he envisioned their existence before the creation of the present world.
I think the two choices for explanations of physical reality boil down to self-actualization or creation. The people who argue for self-actualization (and do they argue) assume that the universe contains in itself properties that caused all that has happened in it since its very beginning. This brings us to the initial difficulty.
The initial difficulty is that before the universe came into being it had no existence we can recognize, at least in terms of something observable or measurable, in other words something subject to science. Some people get around the initial difficulty by postulating an oscillating universe, one that expands and contracts but that is nevertheless self-existent. In this view, the Big Bang was the beginning of the current phase of expansion. Again, there is nothing left from past oscillations for scientists to measure or observe.
One argument for self-actualization that was new to me was the suggestion that what we call the positive part of the universe is balanced exactly by the dark energy and matter that exists so the universe is a net nothing. The person who wrote this possibly was unaware that both traditional Jews and Christians believe that the universe was created out of nothing. If in fact this suggestion were shown to be true, it would be a vindication of some religious beliefs, and undoubtedly require a major expansion of astrophysical knowledge.
Before the Big Bang was accepted as the correct explanation for the beginning of the universe, scientists and philosophers all the way back to the early Greeks had thought the universe to be static and self-existent in its attributes. This thinking is still carried over into present-day understandings. For example, one person dodged the issue of the origin of life by stating that it had nothing to do with the validity of the theory of evolution. For that person evolution was an explanation of almost all of life. The trouble with this older mode of thinking is that science has made our knowledge of everything physical far more complex.
In mathematics, solutions to problems generally begin with a set of initial conditions. It is just these initial conditions that pose more of a problem for science and philosophy than the working out of answers to how physical reality operates. This is because the initial conditions are established by one-time unobservable events. This results in sometimes conflicting ideas. For instance, we are told that all life on earth came from an original biological event. We are also told by some biologists that life will arise in the universe anytime conditions are right. You can probably see the contradiction. Since life has emerged on the earth the conditions are obviously right. So, how come it only happened once in five- billion years.
The space-time continuum is also a great mystery. It would seem to be in a chicken-and-egg relationship with the energy and matter that constitutes the universe. So, did it exist before the Big Bang or was there something in the Big Bang that brought it into existence? And how is it a property of the space-time continuum that it is almost infinitely elastic and that this elasticity produces what we call the force of gravity as a result of the space-time continuum being deformed by matter? The same kind of question applies to the weak force and the strong force. Where were they when no particles existed? Did they exist before particles or were they brought into exist by the formation of particles?
There are more questions for physics, and we have not even reached biology. Where did the properties of quantum mechanics come from? What formed the particular atoms that we arrange into the Periodic Table. Now we can go to biology. Why are there right-handed and left-handed molecules and why are organic molecules shaped in particular ways for specific functions? How did it come about that a genetic code was necessary for life and how did that code come into existence?
The idea of self-actualization becomes even more unlikely as we consider the things that make us uniquely human, such as culture, speech, music, art, abstract thought, technology, agriculture, imagination, conceptualizing and so forth. So why does self-actualization seem very attractive to many people. I think it has to do with two things: ego and rebellion. Our egos are another of our immaterial characteristics. We all seem to have one of either smaller or larger size. It seems to be that people who strongly believe in one of the various forms of self-actualization are people with large egos. I think that one such type, atheists, have egos so large they think they can push God clear out of the universe. That being the case, they typically are sure they are more intelligent than people who believe in creation.
Rebellion comes into the picture as a result of certain temperaments encountering authority figures, normally in their family or in a church where they were taken as children. One way of resistance for such people is to adopt contrary views. When this resistance meets with support in peer groups or educational institutions, it brings ego gratification and a source of identity that is hard to forego. That being the case, it is hard for people in this situation to abandon the idea of self-actualization despite the fact it requires the acceptance of large improbabilities. Self-actualization is in truth a harder belief than faith in creation. This is evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of the human race has always accepted that there was some spiritual entity that brought them and everything else into existence.